Monday, November 30, 2009

even the thirteenth man

Here is some of the only remaining proof that the lads from Casa Zombie (L to R, the Spousal Unit and the Big Brother) were actually in attendance at the 97th Grey Cup Game on Sunday. Somehow all the photos in the cameraphone 5000 got wiped out of existence while being shifted to another folder.
Despite the lack of official documentation and despite the fact that all the vendors at the stadium ran out of food before halftime, leaving some betouqued and Russian tank commander headgear-sporting individuals hungry enough to gnaw off their own arms by the time they got home, the event was evidently one for the record books. The weather was fair, fellow fans on both sides were jovial, the liquid refreshments flowed, and gate security didn't notice a certain furry-hatted fellow carrying his rum bottle right out in the open after he encountered an issue with tucking said bottle into the planned groinal area smuggling spot.
Some of the revellers even made the pilgrimage to IKEA the following day to worship at the foot of the lingonberry and the meatball. Impressive stamina.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Scorched by sand, shaped by secrets

It's no secret that Sage Theatre's stock in trade is the unconventional, the shocking, the difficult plays that leave you pondering painful questions in the middle of the night. The current production of Wajdi Mouawad's Scorched remains true to that time-honoured tradition. It is a powerful play of pain and stark discovery, that returns to haunt one during those midnight reflections.

Following the death of their mother, Nawal - a woman who had not spoken a word for five years until shortly before her death - twins Janine and Simon are stunned during the reading of her will by what is bequeathed and requested of them, a denim jacket marked with the number 72 to Janine, along with a letter to be delivered to the father they believed long dead, and a red notebook to Simon, along with a letter to be delivered to the brother they never knew existed. Only once these requests have been fulfilled, they are told, can the silence be broken and can their mother's grave be marked.

The odyssey upon which the twins reluctantly embark leads them from their home in Montreal to the war-scarred territories of their mother's Middle Eastern homeland. The stark setting of the play - a rough wooden platform draped in canvas rags, a large boulder, and endless sand through which you must trudge to reach your seat - imparts such a sense of place upon the theatre that you swear you can see the machine-gun riddled bus, the notorious prison, the impoverished orphanage, although they are actually only referred to in dialogue.

Scorched unfolds in a shifting reality of time and place. Quite often scenes will overlap in both time and place, with flashbacks to Nawal as a teenager or a revolutionary occurring simultaneously with scenes of her daughter's quest to discover the truth of her being. It's a technique that is highly effective for illuminating both the vast differences between Nawal's reality and the way she was perceived by her children, and the manner in which that harsh reality is an integral part of her children's existence.

There is something very lyrical in the play's language, a poetry that is only fitting as a backdrop to the story of a woman who fought hard to fulfill her grandmother's dying wishes that she learn to read, to count, to speak. The poetry of her language is what ultimately shapes the life that Nawal lives. It shapes her passions, informs her understanding of the futility of the war in which brother kills brother, ensures her survival, and in the end determines her children's very being.

We have all heard the news stories of the conflicts that have ravaged this part of the world, but the news feeds always drape the stories in a cloak of anonymity. Sage Theatre's production of Scorched manages to intimately connect us with the humanity of the people caught in these horrific wars, as they struggle to retain their dignity and dreams in the face of indiscriminate slaughter.

There are some disturbing and ugly truths that are finally revealed in Scorched. I heard distinct gasps from the audience on a couple of occasions. The love that Nawal retains through unspeakable horror, a conflicted love that causes her to fall silent for five years before uttering her final words "now that we're together, everything feels better", is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and to heartbreaking hopefulness in the face of darkness. It is that hopefulness, and the acceptance that accompanies it, which lifts Scorched out of the depths of nightmare and into the realm of dreams.

Scorched plays at Sage Theatre, Nov 19 - Dec 5, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

clinging onto bottles

Have you been stricken by the H1N1 yet?

I ask because I am trying to determine if that's what I have, or if it's just a regular illness. I have perused the handy Knowledge is Your Best Defence pamphlet issued with my tax dollars, and have drawn up some contingency plans. So if my skin turns bluish or grey, I start hacking up bloody mucus, I get more confused than usual, and I start to vomit with a persistence that may just land me an Academy Award, somebody should really do something about it. Contact my euphemistically-named health care provider, according to the ever-so-helpful Public Health Agency of Canada pamphlet.

I would love to hear your flu stories. How ill did you get, how long were you sick? Did you turn into a big crybaby too?

I'll tell you one small miracle for which I remain grateful - that I am not going to be sitting in below freezing temperatures watching a football game tomorrow night. Being the chauffeur for the event suits me just fine. And I would rather eat a watermelon than wear one.

Friday, November 27, 2009

practicing till we get it right

The chili has been bubbling on the stove for hours, the drinks are chilled, and we've got more food than we will ever be able to eat. Get yourselves over here PLEASE, we need help consuming this.

The Spousal Unit and my esteemed brother are going to the Grey Cup on Sunday, so tonight we are hosting a practice Grey Cup party. This gives the gentlemen a day off between festivities to recover and plan their wardrobe, you see.

We have no watermelon helmets, sadly, but would you accept a Grey Cup(cake) instead?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

when we wasn't walking in the rain

we watched a little television.

I have to show you more Vancouver pictures, tell you about a book I finished reading on the plane, and review a play I saw last night, but right now I am on my way back to the airport to pick up my brother.

I sure hope they have the marching band ready.

post-airport update: the Bishop Grandin Marching Ghosts did not show up today, but a Dixieland band did. Also Mike Kelly.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

ain't nobody that can talk like him

Billy Bragg is playing the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary tonight. The last time he was here, he played Knox United Church and it was a great night, very intimate. I would be very curious to hear what people think of a luxe concert hall as a venue in which to experience Mr Bragg, as I won't be able to attend. I suspect the venue does not really matter all that much when it comes to enjoying the firebrand from Barking.

Of course I did have the pleasure of attending the Billy Bragg show in Vancouver on the weekend, and there I had the added delight of being there with a handful of lovely blog friends and the OFKAR, and of finally being welcomed into the inner sanctum of the fabulous Commodore Ballroom.

If you ever get a chance to see a show at the Commodore, just go! The atmosphere is casual and open, yet tinged with elegance by virtue of the beautiful surroundings. It's a crying shame that nobody was permitted to use the empty reserved corporate booths, though. The irony of this occuring at a Billy Bragg show was not lost upon me.

Ron Hawkins (Ron, not Ronnie) opened what he alluded to as the night of the guitar solo. Kudos to the ever-vigilant Matthew for recognising the performer as being a former member of the Toronto band, Lowest of the Low. Naturally I bow to Matthew's expertise and acknowledge his status as senior musicologist amongst our group that night.

Ron Hawkins laid down a strong set. He's a large man with a large presence, and his songs of lost souls and hard times felt at once personal and universal. He was a good match for a Billy Bragg show. Interestingly, Kris Demeanor will be opening the Calgary show, and he will make a fine accompaniment to Billy Bragg's other strongpoint - the story-telling.

Billy Bragg, much like fine wine and yours truly, just keeps getting better with age. He is one of those rare individuals who maintain their passions and their convictions over the years, and he does not tone things down just because he has a touch more grey. He played for over two hours at the Commodore on Saturday night, two hours of fervent rabble-rousing, two hours of soulful softy songs, two hours of stories and rants and working himself and his fans up into a lather.

He doesn't try to deny that he is aging. He was after all, drinking tea on-stage, for his "froat". But he is still passionately involved in life and causes, and in amongst thrilling us with New England and Levy Stubbs Tears and Power in a Union and Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, he alternately delighted us and infuriated us with lengthy tales and pithy quips of his guitar-playing teenaged son, the fascist running for office in his hometown, the Vancouver weather, the "Thatcher is dead" text message, the Clash, and the dangers of cynicism.

There was a lot of love in the room, and it was felt across the wide spectrum of humanity in the audience that night, from the aging hippies and the olde punks to the indie kids and the young marrieds. It felt like community, and everybody sang along.

I know he covered many of the same topics at other concerts across the country during this tour, but the thing about Billy Bragg is he makes it feel personal. And when he points at you and you and you and you and you at the end of the concert, to acknowledge your presence and your singing and your humanity, it feels real.

It was glorious. It was rousing. And somebody in the audience went home with a used teabag.

And most importantly, it ended in a singalong.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

mistaken for footballers

I knew that the Spousal Unit was planning to pick me up at the airport today, but I really expected it to be much more low key than this.

I stepped off the escalator and toward the doors of the meet and greet area, expecting to see the usual handful of people on the other side waiting to greet arrivals. Instead, as the doors slid open, I was greeted by a bank of ten to twelve television cameras. For a second I had to scan my memory to recall if I had slept with any celebrities lately.

It wasn't until a couple of seconds later that I noticed the marching band in the crush of bodies surrounding the arrivals door. Although I am not sure how I missed those red and gold brocaded uniforms with the big majorette hats, at least fifty strong, with drums and trombones and a couple dozen flags. Jet lag perhaps. And it wasn't until I noticed that a flight from Regina had arrived at the same time as my flight from Vancouver that I remembered that the Grey Cup is being played in Calgary this weekend.

Once the Bishop Grandin Marching Ghosts had finished feting the arriving Grey Cup players, and after that handful of 300 pounders had all been white-hatted in the traditional style of this city, the airport returned to normal.

Just another day in the city that loves a parade.

See anything unusual in your travels today?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

leaping tall buildings in a single bound

This Vancouver trip feels like it is speeding by at a breakneck pace, yet it has been so packed with events and activities and fabulous people that it's also hard to believe that I have only been here since Friday afternoon.

Since we last spoke, I spent five hours wandering around downtown in the rain with the Offspring Formerly Known as Resident, getting seizures from the excesses in Pacific Centre mall, learning how to do the umbrella-passers' greeting on the rain-soaked streets (one up/one down), getting shushed by book browsers in Chapters.

At least one of us was thoroughly chilled, weary and starving by the time we met Allison, Mel and Matthew in front of the pub on Granville and Robson, but a steaming bowl of Irish stew and a refreshing ale soon made that grumpy shopper fit company once again, and the rest of the night was golden. It seemed a little surreal to be sharing food and drink and entertainment with not one, not two, but three fabulous blog friends. It sure felt right.

The Commodore Ballroom is a a gorgeous venue, boasting elegant woodwork, a sweeping staircase, killer arch windows overlooking downtown Vancouver, with booth and tables and three bars. We managed to grab a table on the second level, nicely cozy to the stage with a perfectly unobstructed view.

Details of the Billy Bragg concert itself deserve more space than I can afford here, and will be forthcoming in the next couple of days. But it was a great night, spent with great friends.

After getting to sleep at an hour when one is more likely to be getting up for a middle of the night tinkle, both the OFKAR and I found that morning arrived brutally early.

But there was shopping to be done. In Burnaby, nonetheless. And there was Allison's museum to be toured even further afield from the rain-soaked streets of Vancouver. Suffice it to say that we set a new gold standard for targetted shopping, amassing an unprecedented amount of wardrobery in 1.5 hours.

The Maple Ridge Community Museum was a bit of a gem, I thought. The Haney house is a donated family home, quite beautifully appointed, on a lovely little spit of land, while the main museum building itself boats the most astounding and complete miniature train display you will ever see.

And the evening spent with Al in her lovely cozy little flat, munching on hearty black bean and corn quesadillas and homemade apple crisp while gossiping about the rest of you, felt so natural and comfortable, like we do that sort of thing every weekend, that it was hard to believe that we would soon giving each other a goodbye hug, which would have to tide us over for several months.

Tomorrow will be an even earlier morning, since my angel child is taking herself to morning classes. We'll be spending the rest of the day poking around some shops and sharing a meal or two before I will reluctantly return her to the clutches of the ivory tower.

But I will return.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

how hard can it be to be a weather forecaster in Vancouver these days?

I mean seriously. All you have to do is say "it's gonna rain!" periodically and you're covered.

Cushiest job ever.

Apparently I arrived during the only 3-hour break from the rain that this city has seen all month. Sadly, those dry Calgary winds that I tucked into my bag were no match for the pineapple express that's been pummeling the coast.

But that did not stop Mel, Al, the OFKAR and I from wandering around the corner to Davie Street and tucking into a bit of a curry fest during the sleepover last night. And the rain made cozying up on the couch and falling asleep while watching The Princess Bride feel even cozier.

The OFKAR and I are planning to do some much needed shopping this afternoon, prior to the Billy Bragg concert.

I hope Lady Garmin doesn't try to murder me in a lake like she did yesterday. Besides dealing with an evil GPS who just wants to mess with your mind, I have discovered that there are some other challenges to driving around Vancouver. On the way from the airport, I drove for 20 minutes without seeing a single speed limit sign. Oh yeah, and I learned the hard way that there are no merge lanes in this city.

Friday, November 20, 2009

the sky may be gushing, but then so am I

I may be headed to a city that has been deluged by cold November rains (with expectations of much of the same), but my blog posts may very well be as dry as your skin during a Calgary winter for the next few days.

Expect shamefully Twitteresque reports while I:

- have a giggle-fest sleepover at my hotel with the outrageous OFKAR, the glorious Allison, and vivacious Mel

- celebrate my 17th blogger meetup, with the delightful Westcoast Walker

- rock out (and if past performance is any indicator, laugh my fool head off) at a Billy Bragg concert

- get the red carpet treatment at the Maple Ridge community museum

- shop shop shop laugh laugh laugh with the OFKAR

My blog visits will be seriously curtailed, naturally, and I hope you will forgive my ignoring you. I will miss you all, but be forewarned, when I return, I will be all over your blogs like ugly on an ape.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

but you can't see your way if you're blind

Smell my face. Does it remind you of Thanksgiving?

The lady who vacuums my face always wants to try new techniques on me and today I let her talk me into a pumpkin facial.

I look good enough to eat!

I just realised today that I have not flown solo since before the Offspring Formerly Known as Resident was born. Although I am not looking forward to being solo whilst navigating the car rental business and then finding my way around that crazy city which is built entirely on bridges, I must admit I am anticipating the time to read in the airport and in the skies.

I have Terry O'Reilly's brand new book tucked into my computer case, as well as some work-related magazines, and I can't wait to kick back with a cup of coffee and a couple of hours to read. Just thinking about it feels so incredibly luxurious.

I haven't a hope in hell of catching up to the blistering reading pace set by the OFKAR, who has just finished her 49th book of the year. Barring John Kusack unleashing the end of the world upon us two years early, she will most certainly make her goal of 50 books this year.

*golf claps all round*

I have however, just completed a rather lengthy book, which at times I doubted that I would actually
finish, and I have posted a review over at the Bookworm Collective. I invite you to discover what I thought of this vaguely gothic Spanish historical mystery.

What are you reading these days, anyway?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

top five benefits to being cataract free

1. return to 20/20 vision
2. return of colour vision
3. being able to drive at night without feeling like I am driving into an exploding fireworks factory
4. being able to read road signs before I pass them
5. no more reading glasses

I am really glad I had cataract surgery before heading out to Vancouver this weekend, where I will be driving solo in a strange city that has too many bridges, in a province without one single straight road.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Matthew Good: us does not remain impossible

Matthew Good (with Mother Mother)
- Jack Singer Concert Hall, Nov 15/09

Matthew Good is touring with a band again. And even though he messed up the words to Hello Time Bomb on Sunday night, and even though he declined a confrontation with a band mate because he was "winded as an 80-year-old man", he's still got the chops for rock n roll.

Sunday night's concert certainly proved that. After a few years of touring solo and playing dark acoustic shows, Matthew Good had no problems packing the house (and necessitating a second concert on Wednesday) with his return to his rock roots.

Vancouver power pop group Mother Mother opened the night with a polished and choreographed set. They were given a mixed reception. Most people clapped politely, but there were evidently some hardcore fans in the crowd too. It's not often you see people (albeit less than a handful) dancing in the aisles at Jack Singer. It's just not that sort of venue.

I wasn't sold on them musically, though.
They were energetic enough and I am sure they are very nice people, but I found them to be almost annoying, melodically speaking. They've got the looks, they've got the clothes, but I think if you are going to go the power pop New Pornographers route, you have got to have the catchy hooks. It's imperative.

But of course, everyone was there to see Canada's premier rocker curmudgeon, Matthew Good, and he certainly did not disappoint, either musically or curmudgeonally. It's no wonder that he has such a long-standing reputation for being confrontational. It's partly because he is highly opinionated, with the brains and the passion to back up those opinions, and partly because the audiences at his concerts are filled with an inordinately high proportion of drunken yobs.

Fortunately, Matt Good can always be relied upon to put disruptive jerks in their place with his trademark stinging sarcasm that the rest of us find hilarious and highly satisfying. There were a few moments like that: the pointed look in the general direction of the offender, the pause, and then the zinger. Matthew Good has great timing and he does not tolerate fools.

Surprisingly there were no political rants. He did not once mention the Olympics nor any member of government. I guess even Matt Good has to take a night off from being the bulldog of the nation. And he certainly did seem relaxed, right down to the Pink Floyd tee shirt he was sporting.

But rants and wardrobe aside, Matt Good played a solid 90 minute set (plus 20 minute encore), heavily populated with songs from his newest album, Vancouver. It's a tribute to the drunks behind us that they knew all the words to the new songs, even though they shouted them instead of singing them like a normal person would. In amongst the new songs, Matt dipped back into Hospital Music, Avalanche, Beautiful Midnight, and even Underdogs for the rest of the set.

He obviously enjoyed playing with a band again. They sounded solid, like a band that has been together for a while, and there was a considerable amount of joie de vivre on-stage. It's not often you see the bassist leave the stage mid performance to go to the bathroom. And I doubt that in the old days of the Matthew Good Band, it would have been the occasion for good-natured jesting that it was on Sunday night.

We were particularly impressed with the young guitarist, and not just because he had perfected his awesome guitar hero stances either. He really could flail on that thing. More than once, his riffs launched a spontaneous outburst of applause.

It was great to witness Mr Good delivering an all out rock performance, complete with a stunning light show, again. That Pink Floyd tee shirt turned out to be appropriate after all. This was the fifth time that I have seen Matthew Good perform, yet only the second time with a band. Matthew Good the solo performer and Matthew Good the band frontman can coexist quite seamlessly, I think. He still has the powerful voice and he still has the presence; those will remain constant, regardless of how many people are on that stage.

Monday, November 16, 2009

search engine optimization: increasing your web presence through clever wordplay

How Keyword Searches and Well-Placed Cross-Linking Can Skyrocket Your Algorithmic Ranking

Search engine optimization is all the rage in the world of web publishing these days. If you want a successful web magazine that attracts both readers and search engine bots, you really need to understand how search engines crawl the internet looking for the sexiest words of the day. Apparently using the right word in the right place can seriously impact the top secret algorithmic ranking that search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing give to your website. This has a direct impact on the placement that your website gets on the search page when people type in a keyword search.
That was the gist of the seminar I attended today. And fascinating stuff it was too. Although geared toward web magazines, a lot of the information is just as relevant to blogs. After all, we are all subject to the same sort of scrutiny by the same relentlessly crawling search engine bots, regardless of whether we publish a popular web-savvy magazine like Wired or if we post to a blog that is dedicated to kitchen aprons from the fifties.

Although a lot of what was discussed at the web publishing seminar today was common sense and rather intuitive, I thought, I did learn a great deal and had my eyes opened to a few glaring errors that I was making. I have incorporated six methods for increasing search engine optimization into this blog post, some of which I use routinely anyway, some of which are foreign to me.
The first person who can spot all six key points in this blog post gets a prize. A real prize, which will arrive in the mail with a stamp and everything.

Oh how I miss those song lyrics already!
For more stories about my adventures about gazing deeply into the navel of this crazy little thing called the internetz, feel free to read about:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

abacuses don't lie

Middle of the month. Time to take stock of those November resolutions.

I'm pleased to announce that I have managed to fulfill my NaBloPoMo commitment of daily posting thus far. And frankly it hasn't really been all that difficult. It has had the added effect of making me interested in my blog again. I once again look forward to posting every day, and find that it's actually sort of therapeutic.

Mind you that has been the easy half of the month, the one with the minimum of commitments. The second half of the month could prove to be slightly more challenging, what with five days of travelling and a week of entertaining my brother. I am not complaining, no no! I can't wait to hang out on the wet coast with the OFKAR and some friends that I haven't seen in ages. And I love hanging out with my brother. But I will be a little more time pressed to write those daily blog posts. Just like people with real jobs.

If you are observing National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) or the even more ambitious National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I wish you every success. Don't give up; you are halfway there.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo or NaBloPoMo?
How's it coming along?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

gathering in the warmth of autumn's cold chains

Justin Rutledge & Melissa McClelland
- Central United Church, Nov 13/09

It started as a smoldering groove in a knock-out red frock, built into a smocking jam session that threatened to tumble off the packed stage, and ended as a heartfelt lullaby singalong standing on the pews. Not bad at all for a church concert.

I'd seen both artists perform previously, most recently at Calgary Folk Festival appearances, and had a suspicion that this musical pairing was a particularly inspired idea for a tour. And not just because they are both uncommonly pretty people either. Melissa McClelland and Justin Rutledge have two of the sweetest and purest voices in Canadian music today and their vaguely alt-country styles complement each other so perfectly that it's surprising nobody thought of this before. One of the first thoughts that crossed my mind upon hearing about this concert was that it would be criminal if they didn't perform at least a couple of songs together.

Fortunately both musicians turned out to be on the right side of the law, and besides we were in a church after all, so those of us in the near capacity audience on Friday night were treated to some awfully sweet collaborations.

The venue, always perfect for intimate concerts, is fast becoming one of my favourites. Central United Church is right on the C-train line, and features the soaring architecture, sculptured ceilings, and gleaming wood of some of the other downtown houses of worship which have been pressed into service as musical venues. But it's the pie-wedge shaped room that sets it apart, in that it ensures that there is not a single bad seat in the house. And the pews are cushioned. Nice.

Melissa McClelland took to the stage first, her stunning red frock belying the casual and comfortable approach which she brought to her performance. And she did it right too. Flanked by a violinist and a bassist, McClelland started the evening with a slow measured groove on her first two songs, and then proceeded to mix it up with a duet with Rutledge. Gradually the band grew, with the addition of a drummer and finally an electric guitarist, each addition adding more complexity and more vigour to the music. By the end of her set, the church was pretty much rollicking, with outbursts of applause for particularly inspired riffs bursting forth from the assembled.

When Justin Rutledge took over the stage, after a break to allow half the women in the church to line up for the two-seater bathroom, he followed a similar approach, with he and his guitar accompanied by a slide guitarist. Anyone who has ever heard a note of his music knows that Rutledge has a heartbreakingly lovely voice, but who knew that he was so funny? "You should see me in that dress" were his opening words, and he played to the Calgary audience very skillfully, name-dropping local establishments, lamenting the lineups that were sure to form at a local diner the next morning, and then carefully considering one offer from an audience member to have her cook breakfast for him instead.

But the playful banter, off the wall and refreshing as it was, really was outshone by the performance. By the time the guitarist, bassist, drummer, and Melissa McClelland had joined him onstage for a slowed down bluesy rendition of Johnny Be Good, we had been treated to a tasty blend of acoustic ballads and rocking numbers.

After a mercifully brief pause between the applause and the encore ("where am I going to go? It's not like I have a cab waiting to take me to the Deerfoot Inn ... although we really should go to the Deerfoot Inn..."), Rutledge wrapped up with a flourish, wandering into the congregation, clamouring up on a pew and leading us all in a singalong of Don't Be So Mean Jellybean.

And as far as I am concerned, every concert should end in a singalong.

Friday, November 13, 2009

but how many of them show up in pyjamas?

We either have an infinite capacity for discontent, or we are a species who are hard-wired to crave contact with our own kind.

Recently an office opened in this city which is peopled by freelancers who used to work at home. I scratched my head in bewilderment too when I first heard this, because is that not really the whole point to being a freelancer, to be able to work at home in your underwear, untroubled by icy roads and congested highways? Why on earth would anyone who has the freedom to pop into the kitchen for a snack whenever they want or bring the laptop out to the back yard patio give all that up? Are they insane?

Many of the advantages to working from home are actually a double-edged sword. Sure it's easy to do a load of laundry while you are working, but it's hard to stop there sometimes. So you clean the sink and do some grocery shopping and go for a workout and see what looks good in the fridge and organize the linen closet. And the next thing you know, the sun is setting and that article has still not written itself.

And then of course, there is the little matter of human contact. When you start waiting for the letter carrier and when the cashier at Safeway is starting to feel like your closest friend, you know you need to get out more. And it's difficult to bounce ideas off the cat, regardless of how much she wants to help you type.

I can understand what drives some people to need a centralized place from which to freelance. Ultimately we crave routine, discipline, and human contact. But whenever I find myself disgusted by the fact that I am still in my housecoat at 9:30 in the morning or whenever I start pacing the house talking to myself just to hear a human voice, I simply turn on the traffic report and gloat over the fact that I am not on the Deerfoot. And I always feel better when I can gloat.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

consider this one to be on the house

I get these periodically, these emails inviting me to make money by hooking up my blog with their site in one manner or another. I'm sure you do, too. Naturally I treat these requests with great suspicion, and I usually end up spending more time than I should checking out the company without actually clicking on the link. I can usually find a good deal of discussion on the interwebz, as bloggers are generally a chatty bunch and of course these things get sent out en masse.

Here's the latest one, received this morning:

I'm Eunice from

I would like to know if by any chance you would be interested in getting paid to publish reviews of products and websites on your blog

If you are interested please let us know the amount of money you want in order to publish a review by clicking the following link:

As soon as you do that we'll start sending you paid review proposals from our customers.

The Team

Since this particular request didn't contain any spelling mistakes or glaring grammatical errors to enrage the grammar Nazi in me and arouse my suspicions as to legitimacy, I did my usual web search. The vote seems to be split, but there is no shortage of red flags on the issue.
Being naturally suspicious, I firmly believe that red flags are your friend.

Besides I did have a brief flirtation with a similar proposal a few months ago, which fizzled into nothingness. And I always feel like I should be wearing a full-body condom if I am going to jump into bed with any of these guys.

Not that I am opposed to making money, mind you. I like eating and having a roof over my head as much as the next person, but I also don't want to contribute to the clutter that's on the internet.

And then there is the matter of preserving the integrity of my blog. I'm not narcissistic enough to believe that my little blog is too precious to entertain this sort of venture, but I sure don't want to bore you with reviews of yet more stuff. Because we all have way too much stuff already.

How do you handle this sort of offer?

update: it's pretty much unanimous that these are all bogus, but obviously there are legimimate businesses out there. But how do you recognise them? Just by name recognition and reputation?

I've had quite a few happy dealings with musicians and labels, arts organizations and film distribution companies, but none of these have involved cash exchanging hands, although there is certainly free merchandise. Is that where the line is drawn, at the money?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

the fields of November

On this day I remember my father amongst all the others. He did not fall in the war, but many of his dreams and expectations surely did. The war changed his life in such profound ways which I am only beginning to comprehend.

He was younger than my own child when he fought. This is unfathomable to me. The lives of his children, which to me growing up felt unbearably harsh, must have seemed to him so very privileged. His war diary, which was unearthed after my mother's death, gave shocking glimpses into some of the horrors that he witnessed, that must have shaped him, in a war of which he rarely spoke.

I remember.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

set them wild, set them free

In keeping with the precedent set in May of the year of our Lord two thousand and nine, when it was unilaterally decided that there would be no bedding plants purchased nor planted at Casa del Zombie that year, Ms Zombie wishes to announce that there will be no brandy fruitcake baked for the upcoming Christmas season.

That is all.

Monday, November 09, 2009

curtains never open, faces never show

I walk the back lanes these days, to the store.  It fills my need for new perspectives.  Familiarity, it seems, had made me oblivious to my surroundings, more blind to the details than the cataracts ever did.  And I live in the details.

Today I passed the lady who wears her hair piled in a top knot.  She must have been told once that she looks like Katherine Hepburn, as I have never seen her without that iconic hair style.  She also favours the back lanes, it seems.

I like pretending that I am lost in a new city, as I let the meandering lanes lead me in loops and switchbacks of fences and garage doors.  There are no straight lines in the suburbs.  But there are dogs who warn me to keep walking buster, and there are kitchen windows that gaze blankly at empty patio furniture.  I like being removed from the drone of traffic by a single row of houses, artifacts of the great oil epoch.  But mostly I like looking into the lives that people choose not to show to the world. 

Sunday, November 08, 2009

and one time at band camp

When Belle and Sebastian curated the Bowlie Weekender music festival at a holiday camp in Camber Sands, Sussex in 1999,  it unleashed an appetite for a different kind of music festival.  Harkening back to the days of summer camp by the seaside, only with the campers being the coolest musicians you could possibly imagine instead of that nerdy guy you had to share a bunk with during the summer it rained every day, the concept was just too great to let die out after only one event.  And so, All Tomorrow's Parties was born.  

Held first in the original seaside camp at Camber Sands and then moving to the larger Minehead, All Tomorrow's Parties is like summer camp for rock stars.  It's a music festival that shuns the lure of corporate involvement, focusing instead on intimacy between musicians and festival goers.  Each year the festival is curated by a different musician who fills the lineup with the musicians they want to see, a sort of personal playlist of the curator.  And with all the musicians staying at the camp, it is as famous for the stories of after-parties at the chalets or on the beach as it is for what happens onstage.

Tomorrow (November 9) is the release date for the DVD of the film, All Tomorrow's Parties, and I suspect there will be more than a few excited music fans clamouring for a copy.  

It's a documentary with an intriguing twist.  Based on amateur footage submitted by over 200 musicians and festival-goers, and encompassing ten years of annual All Tomorrow's Parties, the film can feel a little frenetic at times.    WIth no narration and no clear chronological structure, one is sometimes at a loss as to what exactly it is they are seeing.  Often depicted in split screen, All Tomorrow's Parties is a collage of concert footage from ten years of festivals interspersed with scenes from the chalets where the musicians stay for the duration, arty shots mixed with travelogues from the fifties, interviews merged with party scenes.  It must have been a bugger to edit.  

At many points during the film, I found myself groaning, "I really want to see Nick Cave/Portishead/the Yeah Yeah Yeahs/etc in concert!"  There are some truly surreal moments captured on film in this documentary - Daniel Johnston inside his chalet room singing through the window to the crowd assembled outside, a rapt crowd air-drumming madly along with Lightning Bolt while a bored looking group of suits looks on from the periphery, Grizzly Bear leading a joyous singalong on the beach at dawn, David Cross confronting his heckler outside the venue after he was forced off-stage, the Boredoms hosting a dance-off, impromptu daytime singalongs on the chalet balconies, Akron/Family leading a joyous dance party that blurs the line between performer and audience.  These sublime moments provide adhesion to what sometimes appears to be a disjointed series of images and occurrences.

There is no real narrative structure to All Tomorrow's Parties, so if you like a documentary that follows a conventional chronological path, this film may not appeal to you.  If however, you appreciate serendipity, love the thrill of discovery that comes with wandering around a folk festival during the workshop sessions and stumbling upon a strange and sublime musical pairing that you will probably never again see in your lifetime, then I suspect that you will be enthralled by All Tomorrow's Parties.  

I found that I needed to watch this film a second time, just to experience a few of those compelling moments once again.  Regardless of your preference for narrative style, one constant of All Tomorrow's Parties that you cannot help but be awed by is the music itself.  With performances by Belle And Sebastian, Grizzly Bear, Sonic Youth, Battles, Portishead, Daniel Johnston, Grinderman, David Cross, Animal Collective, The Boredoms, Les Savy Fav, Mogwai, Slint, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Gossip, GZA, Seasick Steve, Iggy and the Stooges, Fuck Buttons, Shellac, Patti Smith and John Cooper Clark, this documentary is an indie music lover's wet dream.

DVD and download available Monday, November 9/09 at

For more information and historical background, click on the booklet below:

Saturday, November 07, 2009

invite the tabby two doors down

The resident cat has been most attentive in helping me prepare for our dinner party tonight.

Since I met our guests through BLIP, I can safely assume that music will feature large in the course of the conversation, which begs the question, what should be on the playlist for the evening? What goes with lasagna anyway?

I'm sure the cat will have an opinion on that too.

Friday, November 06, 2009

another Canadian musician you should know: Dan Mangan

Dan Mangan is making life very difficult for me these days.

I have approximately 3,759 new cds piled up on the dining room table that need a proper listening to, and yet I keep craving Mangan's newish album Nice Nice Very Nice. I find myself without fail sneaking it out of the house with me as I head out to my listening studio, aka the urban assault vehicle. Dan is my new singalong partner these days, riding shotgun through the mean streets of Lake Bonavista.

His gruff voice with the breaky bits has the power to rip my heart to shreds. His observances of the sweet sorrows and the painful glories of everyday life elevate the tiny details of our existence into something kinda sublime. Dan Mangan's voice has the world weary raspiness of an old soul trapped in a young man. And I am still kicking myself for not dragging myself out to his concert last month. Damned eye surgery.

Today I embarrassed myself whilst running errands by bursting into tears when I was listening to this song. It does absolutely nothing to increase the comfort level of the other drivers when they see you sniffling away behind the wheel and wiping your eyes with a stupid grin on your face. Perhaps best
not listened to in the throes of an existential predicament.

Even if you think you have not heard Dan Mangan before, you may have heard this song. I'm not certain if Robots is getting any radio play outside the CBC, but it sure seems to be on everybody's radar these days. And with good reason. You've got to stick around for the handclappy singalong toward the end. Just trust me on that.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

what brung you here anyway?

It really has been far too long since I checked into what keyword searches have landed people on this blog. To tell you the truth, I haven't even really thought about it for a while, even though there is often comic gold buried in those searches. But then Sean shared his keyword searches with us the other day, and you know that I always copy whatever it is that Sean does.

Here then, are my top ten keyword searches what brung you here, by category:

the "somebody's been to IKEA" category:
- i'm sitting on the rood

the "I believe you just scream 'that sounds so good!'" category
- fake an eargasm?

the "were you the guy in 15E? - sorry about that" category
- barbara farting on the plane

the "because everybody knows that brunettes would never do that" category
- blondes cranking an flooding old cars

the "which is more important, my cleanliness or my spelling?" category
- do i have to put on my antibacterial soap every 10 minitues to be germ free

the "don't they teach you kids anything in school anymore?" category
- how do I encase a stapler in jello?

the "I guess you overheard me the other day, then" category
- facebook fuckin shit biscuits

the "what makes you think I want to know this?" category
- i went back to my hotel and googled her (in hopes of finding nude, carnal images

the "I can't decide if this is redundant or impossible" category
- rosencrantz and guildenstern are dead zombies

the "have you ever seen my handwriting?" category:
- what font goes well with lucinda calligraphy?

What delightful key word searches have found your blog lately?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"it's just beer"

What do you do when you realise that there's a corporation in your midst that has been steadfastly supporting the arts, agriculture and education since its inception? A corporation that is fanatical about the quality of its product, but that doesn't take itself too seriously. A corporation who's like the guy you can always rely on to help you move. A corporation who has come up with some of the most clever and unique marketing strategies you've seen in a long time.

If you are the Calgary Business Hall of Fame, you induct its founder into your ranks.

If you are a zombie who is a little less bad tempered these days, you write them a little love story. Okay, it's a long love story, so when you have a moment, please pour yourself a drink and wander over to New Canadian Modern to read my article, Patron Saint of Everything.

You will wish you lived here.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

settled for the robot boy

I can't believe how long it's taking me to get all my shit installed on our new computer. Most of it is finally on there now, but there are some glitches that I am not sure if I will ever be able to fix.

After much kvetching and head scratching, I finally got my webcam installed. Except the camera only works on test calls, not when I want to make an actual call to a real person. I mean the Skype testbot is very nice and all, but I want to chat to the OFKAR.

I did have a nice online chat with Srikanke today who helped me install Norton after my own attempts met with the "you bitch you have exceeded your allowable installations" message. It's nice to meet new people from other places, don't you think?

I should have hit him up for some recipes while I had him cornered in the chat room.

Monday, November 02, 2009

sex in the ice cubes

Remember back in the 70s how the notion of subliminal advertising was all the rage? I'm sure I wasn't the only kid who spent hours pouring over Smirnoff ads in magazines, looking for couples in flagrante delicto depicted in the glass of vodka over ice.

Yeah well, that's all a myth, according to Terry O'Reilly. The ad man and host of the insanely intriguing Age of Persuasion on CBC Radio burst our bubbles when he was asked about that concept at the Plaza Theatre on Sunday. According to O'Reilly, the advertising business is fueled by panic-driven deadlines and nobody has the time to dream up sexy little subliminal images to inject into the ads they produce.

Which is a shame, but the near-full house at the Plaza was certainly not disappointed by anything else he had to say. Focusing primarily on three chapters from his and Mike Tennant's new book The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture, O'Reilly kept us mesmerized, as we munched our box lunches, by just how vulnerable we really are to the power of clever advertising.

The power of advertising really lies primarily in how it has insinuated itself into our psyches. Ads have become so ubiquitous, appearing on everything from the space station to condoms, that they are in danger of becoming invisible in the clutter. As O'Reilly puts it, advertising is the only industry which simultaneously creates the problem as it tries to solve it.

Touching on everything from the ability of smell to bypass the thought process entirely and go directly for the limbic system, to the power of the word to rebrand a company and manufacture loyalty, right through to the unwritten contract that an advertiser must fulfill to provide something in exchange for our time, Terry O'Reilly demonstrated to a rapt audience just why The Age of Persuasion (the show about advertising on our national ad-free radio station) is such an enormous hit.

O'Reilly's reading was cleverly paired with one by Gordon Laird, a local investigative reporter, reading from his treatise The Price of a Bargain: The Quest for Cheap and the Death of Globalization. Laird presented his premise that pervasive price cutting, demonstrated most profoundly in the big box phenomenon of Walmart, and the endless sprouting of local dollar stores, is the most powerful economic force at work in today's marketplace. Flanked by the visual presentation of big box communities and freight container cities in the port of Los Angeles, along with images of social upheaval in China, Laird made a compelling argument against the dangers of the quest for ever cheaper goods, even tying in the example of what is perhaps the most disturbing quest for cheap on the planet - the squandering of high quality natural gas to extract low quality bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands.

With our economy hopelessly dependent upon cheap transportation, cheap labour, out of control consumer credit, and dwindling resources, Laird's convincing argument that this reality is unsustainable hit awfully close to home. Yet he was surprisingly funny for someone tackling such disturbing questions.

My only complaint with the event was the unfathomably large number of toddlers in attendance. I have nothing against children; they are delicious. But I have no idea why so many parents thought that a two hour lecture series about advertising and economics would be a good place to bring a two-year old. No wonder they squawked all the time. It wasn't a Robert Munsch reading, people!

Restless toddlers aside, attending these readings was a great way to spend a Sunday lunch in Kensington. Kudos to Pages Books and their next-door neighbour, the Plaza Theatre, for marrying their resources to open this event to a larger audience than could be housed at the tiny book store. I, for one, was certainly cheered to hear that this was the first in a planned series of readings, to be held the first Sunday of the month throughout the winter.

Based on this inaugural event, the series should be a huge success. You really should go.